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'Collaborative, but forceful'

N.Y. school leaders talk about Eric Ely

July 05, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — To observers in Schenectady, N.Y., Southbridge's new superintendent-designate Eric Ely is direct, loves a challenge, thoroughly researches his proposals and implements them well. But he also needs to work on involving the community and can spark resistance in those who don't want to change.

"To make change, you have to lead by example, but sometimes you have to step on toes," said former Schenectady Board of Education President Jeff Janiszewski, who has been on the board since before Ely was hired as assistant superintendent in 2004 and promoted to superintendent in 2006. "People who wanted to see progress in Schenectady followed his lead willingly, but people who wanted the status quo [got upset]."

Another former board chairman, Maxine Brisport, said members of the latter group have sometimes dubbed Ely's style "autocratic." Both of them saw him as "collaborative but forceful" (in Janiszewski's words), with Brisport saying Ely seeks input during formative stages of a new plan, but once he makes a decision, he acts on it with the understanding "that you can't please everyone in a school district."

She noted, for example, that veteran teachers have sometimes objected to being moved to other schools in which Ely thought their talents would serve students better. He listens to such objections, but they don't necessarily change his mind, both agreed.

"He really researches the changes before he comes up here with them," she said. "I really don't think he makes haphazard decisions," but to some people they can "seem so radical" that they spark opposition.

She recalled such a plan. A few years ago, Ely started having kindergarteners register for school at local hospitals, where they got medical, dental, psychological and any other screening they needed and shots they might have missed.

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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